Monday, February 2, 2015

February 2015 - Featured Playlist: Many Splendours

Love is patient, love is kind, love is a battlefield, love is a verb, love is all around, love is all you need, love is… Love is a reliable artistic inspiration, that’s what it is. And we don’t mean only that twitterpated kind of love, though plenty of cash will be coughed up this month roses and chocolates and chintzy teddy bears bombarded with hearts and glitter. Love also means sacrificing oneself for family, putting their needs first. It means sticking together even when you’ve both become all sags and wrinkles. It means reflecting fondly on those who’ve left this world too soon. It means sharing your life, both the happy and the heartbreaking parts of it.

Immerse yourself in this music, study the stories behind these songs, and see how love truly is a thing of Many Splendours.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Chen Gang, He Zhanhao - The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto: Adagio cantabile – Released from censorship following the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, this concerto became one of the most recognizable classical works to come from China. It recounts a popular Chinese folk tale about two lovers who were united in death when their spirits turned into butterflies and flew off together.

2. Jules Massenet – Le Cid, Act III: Ah! Tout est bien fini…O souverain! – Rodrigue has been forced to kill his lover Chimène’s father to avenge his own father’s honor. Understandably she isn’t too happy with him. In this aria, he laments his fate and dedicates himself to the will of God before heading off to fight. Will he be victorious in battle? Will he reconcile with Chimène? Or will it all end in tears?
3. Giacomo Puccini – Tosca, Act I: Recondita armonia – Cavaradossi, a painter creating a portrait of Mary Magdalene, sings this aria about the “hidden harmony” between the blonde subject and his lover Tosca, who has dark hair. This recording features one of the great operatic tenors of his day, Mario Lanza.

4. Benjamin Britten – 7 Sonnets of Michelangelo, No. 3: Sonetto XXX – Veggio co’bei vostri occhi un dolce lume – Britten found a faithful muse in his partner Peter Pears, a tremendous singer, and his 7 Sonnets of Michelangelo were the first songs he wrote specifically for Pears. Translated to English, the final words of this gorgeous passage say “Alone, I am like the moon in the sky, which our eyes cannot see save that part which the sun illumines.”
5. Lili Boulanger – Le retour – Part of Boulanger’s brilliance was how her songs often told parts of the story the lyrics did not. The text of “Le retour” simply tells of Ulysses’ departure for home and his desire to see his beloved young son. However, the ominous waves penned for the piano portend a return that will not be so simple as Ulysses hopes.

6. Leoš Janáček – String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters”: II. Adagio – Over the final decade of his life, Janáček developed an intense attraction to Kamila Stösslová, a married woman nearly forty years his junior. She remained aloof to his love, but nevertheless much of his late work was inspired by her. Composed shortly before his death in 1928, his String Quartet No. 2 is a musical depiction of his near-daily letters to her.
7. Jón Leifs – Erfiljóð (Elegies): III. Sjávarljóð (Sea Poem) – Leifs was estranged from his family when his teenage daughter Líf drowned in 1947, and he composed four different works as a way of seeking forgiveness from her. In Erfiljóð, composed for a male chorus accompanied by female soloist and violin, one can hear both his profound grief and his tender love for her, and the song ends with “I shall gladly await my own death…long hours I think of you.”

8. Georgy Sviridov – 3 Choruses from Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, No. 2: Sacred Love – Sviridov is best known in the West for his choral work, including his set titled Pushkin’s Wreath and his 3 Choruses from Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, based on Tolstoy. The second of these three choruses is featured here, its text translating to “Sacred love, you are persecuted, soaked in blood. You are sacred love.”
9. Peter Lieberson – Neruda Songs, No. 5: Amor mio, si muero y tu no mueres (My love, if I die and you don’t) – This song cycle, taken from poetry by Pablo Neruda, was composed for Lieberson’s wife, singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and she gave the premiere performance in 2005. The work is rendered all the more poignant when considering that Hunt Lieberson was battling breast cancer, to which she succumbed a year later.

10. Friedrich Von Flotow – Martha, Act III, Aria: Ach so fromm, ach so traut – Martha tells the story of two rich girls who, for amusement, take up work as maids. The farmers who hire them quickly fall in love with them, and recognizing this, the girls run away. One of them, Lyonel, sings this aria upon encountering his “Martha” in her real life as lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne.

11. Clara Schumann – Am Strande (On the Bank) – Clara Schumann’s Am Strande is based on a German translation of a poem by Robert Burns. She gave it to her husband as a gift for their first Christmas as a married couple, writing “in deepest modesty dedicated to her most fervently beloved Robert at Christmas 1840 from his Clara”. His response? “How the clarity of my heart brings me such delight with this present.” Awww.
12. Ludwig van Beethoven – Andante in F Major, “Andante favori” – Beethoven’s love for Countess Josephine von Brunsvik is well-documented, and she is the most likely candidate to be his mysterious “Immortal Beloved”. His Andante in F Major is one of his many musical declarations of love for her, a love that went unfulfilled, largely due to his lower social status and lack of title.

13. Sergey Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64, Act I: Balcony Scene – There is certainly no story more widely associated with young love than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Apparently the epitome of romance involves teenagers dying in the end. Prokofiev’s imposing “Montagues and Capulets” portion might be the most immediately recognizable, but the lovely passage here, depicting the star-crossed lovers’ balcony scene, is also quite noteworthy.
14. Richard Strauss – Symphonia domestica, Op. 53, Part I: Introduction: Thema I (Bewegt) – If Ein Heldenleben is Strauss’ depiction of himself as a hero, Symphonia domestica shows his “happily ever after”. In Part I we are introduced to themes representing him, his wife, and their child. As the work goes on we get a glimpse into his idealized home life, where they are alternately merry, loving, and argumentative (though Strauss wins, of course).
15. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich – Chamber Symphony – Zwilich’s Chamber Symphony was composed in 1979, and in her words, “the ultimate meaning of this Chamber Symphony is in connection with the fact that it was written not long after the sudden death of my husband…” One can hear the intense grief, sorrow, and love she experienced during that time etched in every note.
16. Henryk Górecki – Symphony No. 3, "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs": II. Lento e largo – Tranquilissimo – This text uses words scrawled on a prison wall by Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, a teenaged Gestapo prisoner in 1944: “Oh Mama do not cry – Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always.” Said Górecki, “The whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: ‘I’m innocent’…while here is an 18-year-old girl…[who] only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair.” Now that is love.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!